Wednesday, September 28, 2011
Thursday, September 15, 2011
Wednesday, September 07, 2011
Agroecology, Fragment 2
A philosophical critique of Gliessman's "Agroecology" text, chapter 2.
- Chapter 2 Food For Thought:
- In order to come closer to “nature's image” conventional farming has to be completely unraveled and then re-woven. Monoculture has to give way to diverse micro-ecosystems of individual groupings of plants, which in turn reflect the overall pattern of the encompassing bioregion in a smaller fractal dimension.
- The passing of monoculture means all of the other fundamental strategies of conventional agriculture (the 7 basic practices1) become unnecessary. The new foundation of diversity will itself invite natural ecological webs of life, fungi, flora and fauna, to form – each facet cooperating and strengthening the others. The farmer then must also view her endeavor as a cooperative effort with nature, and not a constant battle against nature. It isn't a struggle against everything “nature throws at us”, it is learning what nature (earth) wants to happen and then discovering the ecological (that is, human) benefit in it.
- A “natural image” farm encourages and nourishes the natural bounty of the ecosystem, enhancing the native production instead of forcing alien systems upon the bioregion. “Natural image” agriculture relies on solar, atmospheric and animal inputs for all the various forms of energy to put into the crop cycle in order to produce food. External inputs in the way of fossil fuels, chemical fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides and complex (non-sustainable) farm machinery are not needed or desired in “natural image” agriculture. In fact, if the consumption of food is limited to the bioregion where the food is grown, then there is potentially no external output – thereby keeping the energy and nutrient cycles closed within that bioregion. This becomes especially important in the wider context of agricultural waste poisoning watersheds, aquifers, rivers, oceans and all the lands and lives associated with them. As well, nutrients such as phosphorus are limited in supply2, and we have wasted most of the earth's reserves using the unsustainable tenets of conventional agriculture. Keeping the cycle within the bioregion also allows for the enrichment of local culture, and the opportunity to create a local and sustainable economic system.
- Of course, there is a sociological component to agroecology, and the financial facet looms large. We force external influences upon our “natural image” agriculture when we try to “plug into” the global economy. Since mimicking natural ecosystems means closing the external inputs and outputs, we have here in globalization and national economics the first obstacles to employing agroecological principles3.
- Money, food and consumer capitalism.
- A “natural image” farm cannot be sustained in a consumer system where everything is sterilized, segregated and sold along intercontinental and trans-ocean trade routes developed by distant corporations to maximize profit. In order to fit into this, or any, consumer-capitalist system agriculture has to conform to the lowest-quality-highest-quantity-highest-profit (Wal-Mart) model that characterizes all the parts of such a trade system. “Natural image” agriculture doesn't fit so it must develop its own characteristic distribution (note: distribution not economic) network (bioregional, biocultural).
- "The companies can give you all the money in the world but you don't want to give it up for what you love. The money is not worth anything." - Storm Powell4
- As well, agroecology does not fit into current social norms, and therefore it can only be a fringe subculture unless it also seeks to change social norms. It can never become mainstream, or even just a “player”, in a consumer capitalist society. So society and the distribution system have to be changed or circumvented. Society, as it is, cannot be joined, as all of history bears witness that whenever profit is a major concern money eventually overrides all else. That is why we have conventional agriculture in the first place. That is why we have joyfully raped and maimed our Mother, the Earth. That is why we have sacked and burned our Home, the Earth. That is why we have polluted and sickened our Paradise, the Earth. All for money . . . do we really want to make economics a primary concern of agroecology? What are we looking for? A kinder, gentler conventional agriculture? Or a truly gentle, sustainable cooperation with nature to enhance the quality of the carrying capacity of a particular bioregion. If it is as the title of a seminar by Stephan Bellon5 indicates: “Agroecology in France: an emerging notion, between utopia and institutional greening", the agroecologists in France, at least, recognize the Aristotelian poles on the agroecology scale of virtue and vice. Bellon sees the paradise possible but also the hell that masquerades as utopia. In an Aristotelian world-view6 it is somewhere on this scale that agroecology will eventually fall. In a global capitalist society agroecology will be relegated to institutional greening, a facade for show – no depth, no substance, no ecology.
- So . . . for a natural image farm the nutrient cycle of the bioregion must remain intact. That means diverse, small-scale crop and husbandry farms producing only for the local communities. By diverse small-scale farms what is meant is small-scale farms that are themselves each a diverse enterprise, like nature. What is not meant is a diverse assortment of different monoculture small-scale farms.
- Composting needs to become universally practiced, human wastes must be recycled into the soil creation cycle, and the implements and accouterments of daily life must be created from local materials (what is local culture without that, I ask – and answer: generic one-size-fits-none global insanity). The engines of transportation must be scaled back to a local size: human, animal, solar and small biofuel engines.
- Energy must come from small-scale solar, wind, water, kinetic, geothermal and other non-intrusive sources. A note here about power generation: the same situation applies here as in agriculture, and that being the large-scale power projects are inherently destructive and unsustainable. Instead of giant hydroelectric dams there should be a plethora of waterwheels and newer technologies that provide localized water power without an intrusive human bootprint upon the environment. Wind, solar and kinetic energy can be utilized in every bioregion, and every bioregion has other sources of energy peculiar to the ecosystem there. Small-scale, local energy production means energy sovereignty just as local food means food sovereignty. Like it or not, sovereignty is a major sociological, agricultural and ecological issue – and the corporations are willing to kill to win7.
- Therefore, as a member of this consumer society we all hold the ultimate power – that of not participating8. Buying “green” won't work because it will all eventually be corporate greenwash. Buying “local” won't work because the local system is still attached to the global system – base prices and wages are set outside the region. Buying “smart” won't work because there is no “smart” in this global economic system. Only disengagement from the global system in favor of a biocultural and bioregional system will work. It is the only thing that has ever worked, and that is because that is how nature works – how the earth lives. We are addicts to the current system, and as addicts we have a muddled and confused perception of reality. That which can save us is rejected as harmful, and that which destroys us is welcomed as beneficial. It is never easy to rehabilitate from addiction, but it is very simple – remove the drug, change the behaviors, live ethically.
- And that brings the question of ecological vs. agricultural stability to the table. The earth, nature, is always in a state of flux. That is the “stability” of nature. Conventional approaches to agriculture, and even many self-identifying non-conventional approaches, seek a stability where there is no flux. If we are honest we would admit that there has never been such a stable farm as farms have always been at the mercy of variable yields due to a number of environmental and anthropomorphic variables the farmer has no control over. We would further admit that it is the height of foolishness to even attempt such an unnatural act. It is this debilitatingly myopic mindset regarding “stability” and “change” that causes us to view farming as a battle against nature. If we truly wanted “natural stability” we would “go with the flow” of nature, and not try to impose the monolithic drabness of domesticated order upon the beautiful function and art of “wild chaos”9.
- A final thought: industrialization, simplification, specialization and externalization (All Aristotelian principles) are not only the hallmark symptoms of monoculture, but also of our philosophical disease.
1The 7 Basic Practices of Agriculture according to Gliessman 2007 (Agroecology 2nd Edition): monoculture, intensive tillage, irrigation, inorganic fertilizer, chemical pesticide/herbicide, genetic manipulation of plants/animals, factory farming of animals.
- 2Three (3) of many . . .
- Phosphorus Famine: The Threat to Our Food Supply” Scientific American, http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=phosphorus-a-looming-crisis accessed 04 September 2011
- “Peak Phosphorus" Foreign Policy Magazine, http://www.foreignpolicy.com/articles/2010/04/20/peak_phosphorus accessed 04 September 2011
- “Forget Oil, Worry About Phosphorus” The Daily Yonder, http://www.dailyyonder.com/forget-oil-worry-about-phosphorus/2010/09/08/2929 accessed 04 September 2011
3“Do Trees Grow On Money” Earth Island Journal (Earth Island Institute), http://www.earthisland.org/journal/index.php/eij/article/do_trees_grow_on_money accessed 05 September 2011
4“Dreams lost to mining plans” Queensland Country Life, http://qcl.farmonline.com.au/news/state/agribusiness-and-general/general/dreams-lost-to-mining-plans/2278892.aspx accessed 04 September 2011
5 2nd International Summer School of Agroecology, accessed on the Web 04 September 2011, http://web.me.com/philogene/Agroecology/Home.html and http://web.me.com/philogene/Agroecology/Summer_School_Program_files/ISSAE.Program.pdf
6I mention here that I am not an Aristotelian philosopher (though most of Euro-American society follows that core philosophy in one form or another), but I have studied Aristotelian philosophy intensively and have rejected that world-view as fundamentally flawed. Evidence: look around, smell the smoke, see the flames, feel the heat.. I use an Aristotelian example here because it is generally understandable to society-at-large, but it does not accurately reflect the real situation.
7“Rash of murders threatens to silence environmental and social activism in Brazil" Mongabay , http://news.mongabay.com/2011/0609-moukaddem_killings.html accessed 05 September 2011
8“Italian town Filettino declares independence” BBC News http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-asia-pacific-14774526 accessed 05 September 2011
9We are so wrong-headed that we name chaos as order, and order as chaos. Inflicting a supposedly ordered monoculture upon a region actually has utterly chaotic consequences, while discarding conventional agriculture and working within the natural system of chaos using such methods as permaculture, biodynamics or biomimicry has demonstrated incredible resiliency and sustainability – in another word, order. Orwellian doublespeak has evolved into the common person's doublethink because of mass brainwashing through censored education.
Monday, September 05, 2011
Agroecology, Fragment 1
A philosophical critique of Gliessman's "Agroecology" text, chapter 1.
- Chapter 1 Food For Thought:
- I will answer all four questions with a single essay answer, as they all intertwine in my mind.
- I preface my response with this anecdote from personal experience. In manufacturing seminars I attended there was always one point driven home: every business has to grapple with three things and only three things: quality, quantity and profit. We were taught that only two of those things were possible at the same time, never three. They taught us some statistical analysis to demonstrate how quantity and quality correlated with profit (for profit is seen as an immutable principle), and how increasing quantity decreases quality, and increasing quality decreases quantity – assuming a stable net profit sufficiently large to enable the sustained increase in the scope of the business, and in the enrichment of the owners. If any business was foolish enough to attempt quantity and quality at the expense of profit, we were told that business would surely fail.
- Of course, all of their assumptions are based on the irrevocability of American capitalist theory.
- Quality=ecological soundness, profit=economic viability, quantity=social equity. We have the same problem, and since we know fractal theory we can deduce instantly that we have the same situational relationships worded in different perspectives – mathematically we have the same pattern in a different fractal dimension. Among other things, that means we don't have to reinvent the wheel – we can learn from the results of what the best manufacturing minds have pondered long and hard upon. We can learn that we cannot have a holistic approach to anything under American capitalism as it is antithetical to such theories – it is a different fractal relationship. The 7 basic practices of “conventional” agriculture are held together by one thread – maximization of profit. Capitalism is hierarchal-based and profit-driven at its core. Any type of holistic approach is communally-founded and health-motivated. Two different fractals, two different philosophies, two mutually exclusive choices. We can't have both.
- And so, that is why decentralization of power, local sovereignty of resources and community health (that is, sustainability) are so necessary to agroecology, and so foreign to our economic sense of reality. Capitalism is the reason why Americans cannot comprehend the destructive, even suicidal, nature of our entire system – a large component of which is the business of agriculture. After all, we made money, and money is the mind, spirit and body of capitalism. Conventional thought, agriculture and otherwise, says therefore that we won – the objective was to make money. Ecological thought says we lost, we killed the planet and the objective was to keep it healthy. It is hard to admit we've been so stupid as to value fiat money over the bounty of the planet, that we valued playing a number game over the business of reality, that we knew what we were doing all the time but were having such a good time we just wanted it to last a little longer.
- We can also deduce instantly that the theoretical approach used by the writers of the text is the same as that used by the lecturers at the manufacturing seminars – because they are framing the problem in the same capitalist viewpoint: quality=ecological soundness, profit=economic viability, quantity=social equity. What they are asking, having all three at the same time, has been taught by the best business and manufacturing minds in American history to be impossible.
- In other words, the System is broke, was always broke, and cannot ever be fixed in regards to sustainability because it never worked in the first place. Specifically to agroecology it means that agronomy (quantity) will always trump ecology (quality) because of the staggering number of mouths to feed (social equity). We do need a holistic approach, but by its very nature of being holistic that means we also have to heal the economic system we labor so fearfully under – remove the cancer (capitalism), nurture the patient (bioregional/biocultural), and learn a new lifestyle (decentralized local sufficiency) so as not to fall sick again. Money, profit, must be relegated to a secondary status.
- Agroecology seeks to bring quality in the form of ecological soundness back into our lives. It seeks to do this by maintaining the health of the soil and preserving the range of biodiversity in the bioregion. It is a noble goal. It is an essential goal necessary to sustain the continuing evolution of the human race. Agroecology seeks to bring quantity in the form of social equality back into our lives. That is also a noble and essential goal necessary to sustain the continuing evolution of the human race in the direction that the greatest minds of human history have determined is best – toward the Good (no lesser of two evils here or billions will suffer for generations – that's just plain evil). Agroecology seeks to achieve both of those goals and maintain a profit (economic viability). Economic viability is a vague and misty term, but even if defined as only enough profit to sustain a business it is still not in any way a necessary thing for the continued evolution of the human race toward the Good. If we have ecological soundness we have the ability to live well. Agronomy also depends, long-term, upon the ecological health of the land. Non-local, non-renewable inputs to maximize production are a short-term gain that has a long and costly downside. Therefore, a healthy ecology is the primary factor (outside humans, of course) in a sustainable agronomic situation. The agronomic and ecologic health of an area is the common ground upon which sustainability is gathered.
- “Wherever our villages were, wherever we picked our food, those places are blessed places. . . . That patch over there — Artesa land in Annapolis — that is a blessed place for us. We went there as kids. We picked berries there with our mother. We picked berries for necklaces. There is another place over there where there is a lot of Manzanita, and that was really important to us. We made spoons from that and also awls to make baskets. These are the things we grew up with. We dedicated our trees not to be cut. The trees in the forest are blessed. The Redwoods give us good medicine from the sap that hardens. It was used for anemia. The young shoots are used for colds. Bark dolls are made from Redwood.
Everything out there is used for something.
The reason we are against the disturbance in Annapolis is that place is alive. It is a dedicated area. It is a special area. If they do something wrong there, things are not going to go right. Who will believe us? We are speaking from the viewpoint of Kashia. We have to talk from the viewpoint of our spiritual leader, what we were taught. The non-Indian may not understand — there are things that we Indians can’t touch but can see. Good teachings are spiritual.
We are disturbed by all the things that are happening around us. We can’t go to some beaches to harvest food, we can’t pick huckleberries any place we want. We can’t find good sedge to make baskets because the best place was ruined by Lake Sonoma. We know that there is sedge on that place over there. Baskets were our cooking pans and used to store things like acorns. That is important for kids to learn. It would be a good place to teach the kids how to make baskets.
Religion was all our life. We’ll tell you why. There were no man made conveniences here. Everything was from the creation. That is why we take care of it. That is what the leader did, she taught us to take care of the food, the water. We took care of the trees. . . .
It is a blessing to pick food. It is a blessing to roam around. The creator wants us to take care of this place.
- Violet Parrish Chappell and Vivian Parrish Wilder, elders and scholars of the Pomo Kashia band1
- In other words, if you don't have your health you don't have anything. Ecological health translates into agronomic health which translates into human health. Economic viability is not necessary. A truly holistic approach to agroecology would have as its primary goals: ecological soundness, social health and social equity. This means an entirely different lifestyle than what we are used to . . . but then, we knew that anyway. It is time to stop clinging to bad ideas.
- All of this may seem lofty and out of reach of the common person in a small village in a northern wetlands . . . but it is ground-level local. Sustainability is ground-level local. Sustainability depends upon each and every individual within a community being aware of their impact upon the ecologic health of the bioregion, as well as all their neighbors' impacts. Local resources drive sustainability. Local control of resources ensures sustainable lifestyles. If agroecology cannot break away from a profit-driven system at ground-level local then it cannot be what it needs to be – holistic.
- Chapter 1 did a good job of exposing a lot of falsehoods we often hear recited as truths about conventional agriculture. But it stopped short of where it needed to go to identify the source of the problem, and possible solution. As long as profit is a driving force agroecology will remain agroeconomy.
1Ahni, Intercontinental Cry, World’s Largest Wine Corporation Threatens Sacred Pomo Redwood Forest , http://intercontinentalcry.org/worlds-largest-wine-corporation-threatens-sacred-pomo-redwood-forest/, 30 August 2011